By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Reverend Jane Willan grew up in Burlington, Iowa, where she attended a Disciples of Christ Church. It was at a church camp when, at the age of 12, Willan knew without a doubt that she was called to go into the ministry when she “grew up.” In the years that followed, she never wavered in her desire, ultimately leading her to the Congregational Church in Grafton.
Willan, 54, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in both history and religion from Hiram College and a master’s degree in divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She also holds a master’s degree in science from Boston University. In 2003, after career in scientific publishing, Willan was ordained. She served two churches in Iowa before coming to the Congregational Church of Grafton in 2013.
“I was drawn to the Congregational Church because of the amazing, motivated, dynamic group of people there,” said Willan, who refers to herself as a progressive Christian.
As a minister of the gospel, Willan believes that her fundamental calling is to model after the ministry of Jesus, to follow his example. She believes that all people are loved and accepted by God and called to reach out to those around them. As a denomination of the United Church of Christ, the Congregational Church is “open and affirming” and has made a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to “persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
Willan lives in the church parsonage with her husband, Don Lutz, 54, and their two dogs, Maggie and Moses. The house, which has served as parsonage for the Congregational Church since 1880, has no shortage of projects to keep Willan and her husband busy. To add to the charm of the historic home and grounds, Grafton High School student Matt Whitney will be creating a trail behind the house leading to a prayer garden as his Eagle Scout project.
In her free time, Willan enjoys reading fiction – her favorite book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” – exercising, watching PBS and writing. When she graduated from Divinity School, her childhood pastor from the Disciples of Christ Church in Iowa, Phillip Gould, gifted her his library of 50 theology and ministry books. From this collection, Willan named “The Courage to Be” by Paul Tillich as her favorite.
Willan recently co-authored a book titled “Jump Start this Church” with Congregational Church member Peter Dennis. The book is a how-to guide for church growth and offers tips that Willan herself uses to help grow her own parish which boasts an average weekly attendance of 90.
“The strategy for growing my church is to welcome all people and preach powerful sermons,” Willan said. “Additionally, we offer a dynamic kid’s program, inspiring music and Christian education for adults that nurtures discipleship.”
For more information on the Congregational Church of Grafton, visit http://uccgrafton.org.